TORONTO - After 95 years, the iconic Masonic Temple — the concert hall where Frank Sinatra, the Ramones and Led Zeppelin once rocked out — may permanently shut its doors and be turned into condos.
Bell Media confirmed Friday they “are considering all options,” including selling the historic building to developers, after they move their MTV Canada studios out of the six-storey landmark at the northwest corner of Davenport Rd. and Yonge St.
“We are moving the MTV studios to 299 Queen St. and, as a result, there will be no further production done at the Masonic Temple as of now,” Scott Henderson, Bell Media’s vice-president of communications, said.
“Staff were notified of it in September. The future of the temple has yet to be decided. They’re considering all opportunities, including potentially selling it. The real-estate team is trying to determine what the future will be.”
Filming of MTV-related shows stopped as of Thursday, Henderson said, adding there’s no deadline for a decision on the building as of yet.
According to the City of Toronto, the Masonic Temple was added to the list of heritage sites in March 1974, which protects some historical aspects of the building, including the facade and some interior features.
This isn’t the first time the temple was considered for condo development.
In 1997, the previous owners planned to tear down the building and build condos, reportedly marketed to Asians who believed the 888 Yonge St. address was “lucky.” According to a Bell Media backgrounder, the Heritage Board fought the case.
Since its construction in 1918, the Masonic Temple has been home to 38 different Masonic bodies. It opened as a ballroom in the late 1930s, and in the ’60s was known as the Rockpile, the venue that hosted Led Zeppelin’s first Toronto concert in 1969.
It eventually became known as the Concert Hall — where acts such as Soundgarden, Black Sabbath and David Bowie played — before its sale to CTV in 1998 as a venue to host Mike Bullard’s late-night show.
When that flopped, it became the home of MTV Canada in 2006 and ceased being a concert venue.
“It could go back to being a music venue, but you would have to have it active many nights of the year to make it actually pay,” music broadcaster Alan Cross said Friday.
“It would be very expensive to operate here. I remember seeing the Pixies there on one of their very last tours. It was in the winter, but it was so hot in there, the walls literally ran with sweat and condensation.
“I saw David Bowie’s Tin Machine play there and it was cool to see Bowie on a tiny stage.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s office said the area is zoned mixed-use and the highest a developer can build within the official plan is 30 metres, or roughly 10 storeys.
There was mixed reaction from area residents about the unknown fate of the Masonic Temple.
“I’ve always considered it a very ugly building,” 80-year-old Ken Rea said.
“It strikes me as being a rather depressing-looking place. It would make a good museum. We have a lot of old buildings that I frankly think aren’t worth preserving. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Doug Doust, 66, said the Yonge and Bloor area doesn’t need more condos. He’s hoping the existing temple could be a centre for residents to access social services.
“It’s getting to a point where there are too many condos and not enough space for people,” he said. “Continuing to build high (skyscrapers) is not in the best interest of the people living here. There’s not enough services to provide for it.”